Great British Menu 2023 is arriving on BBC2 and the popular culinary contest is marking British fiction history. Paddington Bear celebrates his 65th birthday later this year, and the team has found a delightful — and delicious! — way to mark the milestone.
The loveable Peruvian explorer, created by author Michael Bond, is the inspiration for season 18's theme honoring Britain’s success in the world of illustration and animation, including cartoons, comics and computer games.
"Who doesn’t love Paddington?" smiles the series judge-turned-host Andi Oliver, who will help steer 32 professional chefs from eight different regions of the UK as they compete to cook a dish at a prestigious six-course banquet in the Great British Menu 2023 final taking place at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion — the iconic palace immortalized in Raymond Briggs’ "The Snowman".
It’s a long nine weeks to get to the grand final, though, and the contenders must first impress the show’s judges — chef Tom Kerridge, restaurater Nisha Katona and comedian Ed Gamble (see above and below).
Here's everything you need to know about Great British Menu 2023 with Andi Oliver revealing far more about this very special season...
Great British Menu 2023 release date
Series 18 of Great British Menu starts on BBC2 on Tuesday January 31at 8pm. There are three episodes each week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the same time and the series is 27 episodes (nine weeks) in total. Episodes will also become available on BBCiPlayer after they air on BBC2.
Great British Menu 2023 interview: Andi Oliver on what happens
We’re loving the Paddington Bear theme for 2023, Andi!
Andi Oliver says: "Isn’t it lovely? There’s an enduring comfort in the notion of Paddington. He’s the ultimate migrant in many ways. I love that he came from Peru, with only a suitcase, and made himself part of this country. I think that idea appeals to many Britons because we’re a country of travelled people, and a huge amount of us came from somewhere else and settled here. I think we relate to Paddington’s vulnerability and his ability to transform lives. It’s quite a deep way to talk about Paddington but I think there’s a central truth in there somewhere!"
Paddington also captured the nation’s hearts last June during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, when he enjoyed afternoon tea with Queen Elizabeth II in a special CGI sketch…
"That was wonderful and there’s been a resurgence of love for him since the Queen’s passing [in September 2022]. It was such an extraordinary thing to watch. So I love that we’re celebrating Paddington’s 65th birthday, and also Britain’s success in the illustration and animation world. It’s such an important art form as it’s one we tend to encounter when we’re young. Those Quentin Blake illustrations for Roald Dahl’s books are forever entwined in my childhood memories."
Do the chefs take a trip down memory lane for culinary inspiration?
"Absolutely. One chef got ideas from going through his dad’s collection of The Dandy and The Beano comics, which dated back to the 1970s. You’ll also see dishes inspired by 'Rupert Bear', 'The Wind in the Willows', and The Clangers. It gets emotional!"
What’s the standard like this year?
"Breathtaking. Many of the chefs have grown-up watching Great British Menu and their goal is to cook at the banquet, so they’ve worked for this. And illustration is not an easy theme – the dishes have to not only taste incredible and showcase difficult techniques, but also tell a story and capture our imaginations. It’s a lot!"
Tell us about this week’s North East heat…
"It’s thrilling! From the minute the four chefs [see our guide, below] hit the ovens and pans, it’s so evenly matched. They make canapés, a vegan starter and a fish dish, including a watercress velouté, which nods to The Clangers’ beloved green soup, and a local stout broth celebrating cartoonist Reg Smythe’s Andy Capp! Oh, and a Paddington ‘buried treasure’ shellfish dish. Angela Hartnett is this week’s veteran judge and finds it tricky to choose between the chefs — I’m glad I wasn’t scoring!"
The show welcomed an all-new panel of judges last season with Tom, Nisha and Ed joining the team. Is it great to have them back again this year?
"Honestly, Ed is one of the funniest people on the planet! That new blood in the chamber is amazing; they have different palates and appreciate excellence in different ways, so it’s always interesting hearing what they have to say. They give brilliant constructive comments, whereas I just fall in love with the chefs — they’re my babies!"
Are there any stand-out dishes we should look out for in this series?
"There’s an incredible mascarpone raspberry and rose cheesecake recreating [graffiti artist] Banksy’s Girl with Balloon. And there’s also a savoury Wellington crocodile celebrating Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Roald Dahl, it looked like it was about to run off the plate — so clever! My personal favourite was a very simple but magical broth. The chef was inspired by The Wombles theme tune — ‘Making good use of the things that we find, Things that the everyday folks leave behind’ — and she basically used onion and potato to create the most elegant, flavoursome, stunning dish."
Finally, what’s your verdict on the winning dishes chosen for the final banquet? Would Paddington give up his beloved marmalade sandwiches for them?!
"He definitely would. I’d have a stern word with Paddington if he didn’t! The final is magnificent and I couldn’t be prouder of our chefs. It’s a glorious season and I can’t wait to share it with viewers."
Meet the Great British Menu contestants for 2023...
Here are the four chefs representing the North East in the first heat of Great British Menu...
Head Chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Roots in York
Menu inspiration: Stop-motion animation classic The Clangers
Head Chef at Träkol in Newcastle, which received a Michelin Plate (a sign of high quality) in 2021
Menu inspiration: Northern comic strip character Andy Capp, created by cartoonist Reg Smythe
Head Chef at Michelin-starred Winteringham Fields in North Lincolnshire
Menu inspiration: Webcomic Heartstopper by author Alice Oseman
Chef-patron at Michelin-starred Pine restaurant in Northumberland.
Menu inspiration: Charles Mackesy’s beloved illustrated book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
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I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.
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